Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Brotherly Band

On company blogs, people talk most frequently about the results of what their company does. It's very infrequent that people talk about how the company does it (that's the trade secret, after all).

Are we ever going to get there? What would it take for us all to talk to each other about how we go about our business?

That is, to some extent, what the publisher O'Reilly's doing with their Tools of Change for Publishing conference and blog. Maybe it's because publishing as an industry's beginning to feel a little too squeezed? Like we all have to be in this together? Like we're all staring the beast in the face and think that throwing our lot together may be our last hope?

Well, maybe it's not that dramatic. But it's something that William Heinemann proposed in an Athanaeum article in 1892. Then it was shrinking profit margins due to exploding author advances and production costs. Now it's exploding author advances and flat sales.

So do we get more cutthroat (as in many cases we are), or do we, in Heinemann's words, and in O'Reilly's footsteps, "form ourselves into a brotherly band, and stand together against the inroads that are being made on our common interests"?

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Guy Who Makes the Lists, or, Aggregation Is Power

The Wall Street Journal just came out with new rankings for most influential business leaders (here).

Obviously, this is a sparkly day for Gary Hamel (#1) and the rising stars just behind him.

But what does a piece like this do for Tom Davenport, the ranker himself? He may not be Gary Hamel, but his position as someone who we depend on to tell us who is isn't too shabby either.

The U.S. News and World Report gets as much out of the annual college rankings as the top ("top") schools. And is the Academy around for any other reason than to give us the Awards (I mean really)? These groups are powerful because we rely on them to get it right.

Point being, the guy who makes the lists--who tells you who to listen to, where to go to school, what to watch, what to read--may be just as important as the folks on the lists themselves.

And hence, the internet aggregators. Google makes its money by giving you authoritative lists (search results, feed reader). does too. These companies aren't in the content business; they're in the list business.

We all know the content business in publishing is suffering these days. That brings up the question: Can, and should, you do both lists *and* content? Should the NYT list articles not in the NYT as "most emailed"? Would more people visit their site if they did? Should our company's site list competitors' books as "similar products" if that will make more people think of us as "the authority" in our field?